The UK communications minister, Ed Vaizey, gave a speech November 17th about his stance on net neutrality in the United Kingdom. In the speech, he specified that the government would retain net neutrality, but only pursue it lightly—the relative limpness of his wording lead many to believe that this would enable ISPs and others to start throttling or prioritizing the traffic of allies and rivals (i.e., the exact opposite of net neutrality.)
Hesitant to see this happen, a letter was drafted and signed by 19 organizations—including eBay, Yahoo, and Skype—then sent to Vaizey asking him to come down strong on the side of net neutrality and prevent ISPs from taking a politically or commercially charged stance on the traffic that went over their fiber to keep the playing field level.
Portions of the letter, with commentary, have been published in a ZDnet article on the same subject,
The signatories began the letter by welcoming Vaizey’s statement that "consumers should always have the ability to access any legal content or service [and] content and service providers should have the ability to innovate and reach end users".
"This is the first time that such a clear political commitment has been made in the UK to preserve the end-to-end principle that underpins the internet, and the benefits it brings to citizens, consumers, businesses and economic growth," the signatories wrote, before laying out what they saw as the principles needed to back up this commitment.
These principles included traffic management being kept to a minimum and deployed only for technical, security or legal reasons. "There should be no discrimination in the treatment of internet traffic, based on device, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application," the signatories wrote, adding that regulators had to be ready to respond to abuses by ISPs.
"End-users’ choice of which applications, content and services to view, use or run is already restricted in the UK today, especially when accessing the internet on mobile," they wrote. "The government’s commitment to the open internet must be reflected in action on the ground to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open internet."
Making content providers pay extra to deliver different types of traffic to consumers would certainly make ISPs and fiber networks richer, but it would do so by picking the pockets of the consumers. Content providers would most likely pass the extra costs down to consumers—and those content providers who also owned fiber networks would reap huge benefits over distributors who did not. The failure of net neutrality would open up giant rifts into which obvious monopolies could entrench themselves and it would be immensely difficult to dig them out.
The article mentions something that the BBC has been working on with their streaming media: an indicator for their video applications that would warn viewers if their ISP was throttling their media experience. It reminds me of an old adage from doing good business, “Make your customers into complainers.” If your customers do not complain, you may never know something is going wrong. In the case of net neutrality, we the people happen to be the customers of all Internet resources and if our ISP is throttling a specific experience we ought to know that they’re doing it and complain (not just to the ISP who’s doing it, but to government regulatory commissions.)
The response from the UK government to the letter came back predictably bland; but the important part of the letter is its openness and its addition to the entire discourse about what net neutrality means and how the world should implement it for the greatest good.